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Blue Boy, The (1994)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Blue Boy, The (1994)
For Screen Two, BBC2, tx. 2/9/1994
65 min, colour
DirectorPaul Murton
ProducerKate Swan
ScriptPaul Murton
PhotographyStuart Wyld
MusicPhilip Appleby

Cast: Emma Thompson (Marie Bonner); Adrian Dunbar (Joe Bonner); Phyllida Law (Marie's mother); Eleanor Bron (Christine); David Horovitch (Robert); Joanna Roth (Beth)

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A husband and wife expecting a child spend a few days at a secluded loch, but find their happiness short-lived as details of his infidelity emerge amongst stories of a ghostly blue boy.

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'The Blue Boy' incorporates many familiar elements of the traditional ghost story, from its Christmas setting to its isolated locale and a sense of past tragedies impinging on the present. Even though nothing supernatural is actually seen until the finale, it stands out as a ghost story for the finesse with which it introduces supernatural elements into an otherwise straightforward-seeming narrative about a couple coping with marital problems and the pressure and responsibilities of having children.

When Joe breaks off his affair with Beth after his wife Marie falls pregnant again, Beth refuses to accept this. Already made uneasy by stories about the 'Blue Boy', a child who drowned in the nearby loch, Joe and Marie's relationship is strained further when Beth forces the revelation of his infidelity. The tone and style of the main story is extremely matter-of-fact, unlike the 'Blue Boy' flashbacks that rely on swooping cameras, handheld point-of-view shots, slow motion, tilted angles etc.

In medical terms, a 'blue baby' is a child born with a hole in its heart, the discoloration due to cyanosis, a lack of oxygenation of the blood. Here, however, it's used to describe the drowned boy's exposure to the cold, after seeing his father being unfaithful with his nurse. Although Joe's similar demise in the loch is triggered by the appearance of the ghost, intimations of his death appear from the opening, when Beth's photo of him on the loch is bathed in a blue mist, then re-emphasised by the accident at the worksite and the unexplained problem with his cars' brakes.

The thematic importance of the relationship between parents and their children is given an extra emphasis in the casting, with Emma Thompson's real-life mother Phyllida Law playing her fictional one. The performance that really stands out, though, is Eleanor Bron's as the ambiguous Christine, a religious and superstitious woman whose motives are never made entirely clear. She doesn't tell Marie the truth about the boy's death and in a brief shot is seen in the couple's room gazing wistfully at the scan of their baby. Is she trying to bring the boy back to life, or to provide his unhappy spirit with closure? The implication at the end, when the scan and a shot of the ghost are juxtaposed, is that the 'Blue Boy' has been re-born through Marie, suggesting that Christine's family line hasn't ended after all.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Double life (2:44)
2. Bad photos (2:58)
3. Accident (1:27)
4. Memories (3:59)
Bron, Eleanor (1938- )
Thompson, Emma (1959-)
Ghost Stories